Ciencia Ergo Sum ISSN: 1405-0269 [email protected] Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México México

Gil-García, J. Ramón; Vasavada, Triparna S. Visiting a : A Description of a Subjective Experience and Some Preliminary Interpretations Ciencia Ergo Sum, vol. 13, núm. 1, marzo-junio, 2006, pp. 81-89 Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México Toluca, México

Disponible en: http://www.redalyc.org/articulo.oa?id=10413110

Cómo citar el artículo Número completo Sistema de Información Científica Más información del artículo Red de Revistas Científicas de América Latina, el Caribe, España y Portugal Página de la revista en redalyc.org Proyecto académico sin fines de lucro, desarrollado bajo la iniciativa de acceso abierto Visiting a Hindu Temple: A Description of a Subjective Experience and Some Preliminary Interpretations

J. Ramón Gil-García* y Triparna S. Vasavada**

Recepción: 14 de julio de 2005 Aceptación: 8 de septiembre de 2005

* Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy, Visitando un Templo Hindú: una descripción de la experiencia subjetiva y algunas University at Albany, Universidad Estatal de interpretaciones preliminares Nueva York. Resumen. Académicos de diferentes disciplinas coinciden en que la cultura es un fenómeno Correo electrónico: [email protected] ** Estudiante del Doctorado en Administración complejo y su comprensión requiere de un análisis detallado. La complejidad inherente al y Políticas Públicas en el Rockefeller College of estudio de patrones culturales y otras estructuras sociales no se deriva de su rareza en la Public Affairs and Policy, University at Albany, sociedad. De hecho, están contenidas y representadas en eventos y artefactos de la vida cotidiana. Universidad Estatal de Nueva York. Sin embargo, probablemente debido a esta frecuente interacción, en muchas ocasiones los individuos consideran obvia la existencia de estas estructuras macro-sociales y por tanto se vuelven difíciles de percibir. Un templo Hindú es un lugar en el que los artefactos físicos y las interacciones sociales reflejan ciertos patrones culturales y determinadas estructuras sociales. Este estudio proporciona una descripción detallada del espacio físico y una interpretación preliminar de los artefactos y acciones observadas dentro de un templo Hindú en los Estados Unidos. Algunos datos históricos y contextuales relevantes son proporcionados para enriquecer la presentación. Palabras clave: Cultura, Estructuras Sociales, Hinduismo, Observación, Experiencia Subjetiva.

Abstract. Scholars form different disciplines would agree that culture is a complex phenomenon requiring careful analysis to be understood. The complexity of studying cultural patterns and other general social structures does not arise from their rarity in society. In fact, they are instantiated in everyday events and artifacts. However, probably due to this frequent interaction, individuals often take these macro-social structures for granted, and therefore they are difficult to be perceived. A Hindu is a place in which physical artifacts and social interactions reflect certain cultural patterns and social structures. This study provides a rich description of the physical setting and preliminary interpretation of the artifacts and actions observed inside a Hindu temple in the . Some relevant historical and contextual backgrounds is provided to enrich the presentation. Key words. Culture, Social Structures, , Observation, Subjective Experience.

CIENCIA ergo sum, Vol. 13-1, marzo-junio 20062006. Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México, Toluca, México. Pp. 81-89. 81 Introduction The paper is divided into three sec- The sanctorum is very illuminated tions. Section One gives a rich and de- and has a red carpet on the floor. The Visiting a Hindu temple can be a very tailed description of the temple’s physi- natural illumination comes mainly from enriching experience for those inter- cal setting, specifically its main room, a crystal dome located in the middle ested in understanding other realities the sanctorum. This section includes of the roof and several windows and visions of the world. and explanations of some of the main . around the upper part of the room. religious experiences are important In Section Two, the religious ceremony, The room is prism-shaped, with six or cultural aspects of people from differ- or , is described, and some of the seven sides. To the right of the entrance ent national backgrounds. Learning meanings of its actions are explained. inside the sanctorum is a . After the about the religious experiences of vari- Section Three gives a preliminary and bell is a first dedicated to the Snake ous social groups can provide signifi- subjective interpretation of some of . This altar, which is about seven cant insights into other characteristics the actions and symbols inside a Hindu feet high, has a rectangular base, with of these cultures and their diversity. temple and their relationships with pillars supporting a pyramidal roof. On For instance, the Hindu religion can be Hindu culture and society. It also pre- this altar are three -like figures characterized as a tree with sents a brief historical background of made of black stone. The one in the many branches and roots. The branches Hindu religion and some of the rea- middle is the Snake God, who is in the of Banyan trees develop their own sons why are important in company of his daughter and wife. All roots, and the tree grows forever. Al- Hindu culture. Finally, we present some three have a halo made of snakes. The though the Banyan tree has many final comments and reflections. tails of the snakes are in the backs of branches, roots, leaves, and , it the gods, and the body and heads form is only a single entity. Just like the Ban- 1. The Temple: Describing the the halo around the gods' heads. These yan tree, Hinduism is an ever-growing Physical Setting gods are dressed in what seems to be unified entity, with ongoing diverse traditional Indian clothes or royal beliefs and customs. The temple is a white building with apparel, because in This paper presents a subjective ex- numerous (approximately seven) red many of the gods are regarded as kings perience of being in a Hindu temple. domes or cupolas. The cupolas are not in the land of gods. Observation is a powerful technique hemispherical, but pyramidal, with The next altar is square based, with for understanding a cultural setting by square bases. The temple typically oc- a pyramidal roof supported by four investigating and discovering social pre- cupies a large area, and despite the pillars. This is the altar of the planets. mises and basic behavioral assump- houses around it, gives the appearance It is believed each planet moves at its tions. The researcher subjectively cap- of a very open space with plenty of own speed around the earth. The posi- tures this cultural aspect through his trees and vegetation. Entrance is tion of these planets and their inter- or her interaction with the physical ar- through a lateral door, which opens to sections at different times of the year tifacts and social actors. A Hindu a small room similar to a lobby, with a influence the earth and the lives of temple is a place in which artifacts and big closet where people leave their jack- on earth. The human-like fig- social interactions reflect cultural pat- ets, coats, and shoes. Clothes hangers ures, icons of different gods represent- terns and other social structures. are available for jackets and coats, and ing nine planets, are placed in a 3x3 Throughout the different sections, this little square cabinets are available for matrix. They each face a different di- paper guides the reader to an under- accommodating shoes. The room is a rection, because each planet is placed standing of the different facets of Hin- little dark and, apart from the closet, is in its own particular direction in rela- duism and the experience of being in a furnished only with a red carpet that tion to other planets. These human-like temple and participating in a puja. Puja leads to one of the entrances to a big figures carved in black stone represent is an act of or reverence to a hall. After taking off their shoes and the planets Mars, Mercury, Venus, Ju- god and can be done as part of a Hindu jackets in this lobby, devotees follow piter, and Saturn as well as the moon religious service. This study attempts to the red carpet into the hall, or sanc- and the sun, and two other planets provide a rich description of the setting torum, which accommodates images called Rahu and Ketu, which do not and also a preliminary interpretation of of different gods. This is the main part have any physical or celestial bodies like the symbols, actions, and meanings of of the temple, and the principal venue the other planets do. Rahu and Ketu the temple and the puja. for pujas to the gods. are at the northerly and southerly points

82 GIL-GARCÍA, J. R. Y T. S. VASAVADA VISITING A HINDU TEMPLE: A DESCRIPTION OF... at which the Moon crosses the ecliptic Picture 1. Outside the Temple or the path of the Sun respectively. Rahu is exactly 180 degrees away from Ketu (for more information see Kak, 1996). According to Hinduism, these are very sensitive and effective points, which have a powerful influence on human affairs. Following this altar is another, long altar formed by three square white spaces, covered with ceramic tiles. They have flowers and a (a kind of ) lamp in front of each god. All the seem to be made of marble. A male figure called occupies the first space. He is not dressed in fabric but rather has clothes Picture 2. Inside the Temple painted in . An orange dress and a yellow U-shaped tilak (drawing on the forehead) represent this sub-sect of the Hindu religion. Devotees of - narayan range from the lower income group to the wealthy business class. This sect is one of the most organized groups of the Hindu religion. The devo- tees are a closely-knit community who help each other in many respects as they see themselves as one big Swa- minarayan parivar (family). They be- lieve the most important thing is to help each other have a better life. In gen- eral, temples are strongly organized religious institutions. People who do- nate more money to them are perceived as more powerful and have a strong say in decision-making on behalf of the temple. Such a contributory role also brings higher status in the society. In the second place on this altar is another couple god called - . Radhaji, the beloved of Krish- na, is a married woman older than neshwar, meaning a complete god, who dancing, romancing, sorrow, etc. Krishna. Their love is regarded as one is good with good and bad with evil. Krishna has been portrayed as a great of the purest and most intense and Lord Krishna takes many forms, and philosopher in the epic called Maha- romantic. The dance of Radha-Krish- each form represents a different char- , in which he narrated the Gita, na, called Ras-leela, is one of the most acter and emotions. These forms rep- one of the sacred books of Hinduism famous forms of dancing in to- resent roles such as teacher, philoso- (Rao, 1992), which, in terms of its day. Krishna represents the worldly side pher, and helper, and such attributes importance to Hindu devotees, can be of a human being. He is seen as Pur- as friendship, happiness, enjoyment, compared to the Bible’s importance to

CIENCIA ergo sum, Vol. 13-1, marzo-junio 2006 83 Picture 3. Idols inside the Temple marble tiles. The floor is also covered with black tiles. One of the possible rea- sons for the use of these materials is that during the puja, gods are bathed with water and . Therefore, for practicality both God figures and their spaces need to be resistant to water ero- sion and relatively easy to clean. In the third space is a figure repre- senting , the Elephant God or the God of Good Luck, who is the son of . Carved out of black stone, Ganesha is a human-like figure with some elephant characteristics, and is alone in the space he occupies. His head is that of an elephant, and he is fatter than all the other gods. He is dressed with two pieces of cloth folded Christians. The third space is occupied first inside space is Shiva, who is the in a very peculiar way. One of them is by another form of Krishna, who rep- God of Creation and Destruction. around his hip, and the other is around resents money and trade. In Hinduism, Lord Shiva is also represented in dif- his neck. Finally, in the left-side out- gods can have several representations ferent forms. In this temple Shiva is side space is Ganesha's brother, and different names according to those represented as , a penis-head Balasubramanyan. representations. This form of Krishna form, over a base. Both are made of Another bell is located between the is worshipped by the business and trade black stone. He is dressed with two main altar and a fifth one. All three caste, the class that represents wealth. colorful pieces of cloth and decorated hang on the wall, and people only This image is a human-like figure with with a special red and yellow and need to pull a rope to ring them. The money representations, such as , some flowers. The floor is also cov- fifth altar, a long, white one divided jewelry, and other objects related to ered with black stone. Shiva can also into three equal spaces, is very similar wealth and an affluent livelihood. have a human-like representation like to the third, and is also covered with After this altar is a smaller bell, the one in the roof of the altar. The ceramic tiles. Going from right to left, which precedes the main altar. The penis form is related to reproduction in the first space, is Lord or Sree main altar is very different from the and is considered more powerful. In Ramjee. He is accompanied by his wife first three. It is more like a small house, front of Shiva's space is a kind of table Sitamata, his brother Lakshamanje, and an individual mini temple, with three on which rests the figure of an called his monkey-like devotee Hanumanjee. rooms inside and two spaces outside. Nandi. Nandi plays the role of Rama is known for his amazing divine The surface is very colorful, and its gatekeeper and is responsible for keep- powers. pyramidal roof has sculptures of the ing Shiva free of disturbances while The second space is devoted to three main gods in the temple. The he is in . Mahavir Swami. This god is a repre- colors are very vivid and bright. The The central inside space is dedicated sentation of meditation and the power altar is approximately nine feet tall to Laxmi and Narayan, the main gods to control the human senses. Accord- and reaches the roof of the sanc- in this temple. Narayan is always accom- ing to some traditional Indian stories, torum. The peak of the pyramidal panied by his wife Laxmi (the goddess Shri Mahavir Swami has meditated for roof points to a small crystal dome of money). They are dressed in what several years. He is the 24th saint of located exactly above the peak. seems to be traditional Indian royal the Jains, a religion similar to Going from right to left, in the first clothes made from silk fabric. Both and Hinduism. In the third space is outside space, is Lord Shiva's wife, the images are human-like figures made of Dharmasastha. This god is represented Goddess or Lalitha, who is also black stone. This central space is a little by a golden figure. He is dressed with a symbol of (strength). In the bigger, and its walls are covered with two pieces of cloth. There is a golden,

84 GIL-GARCÍA, J. R. Y T. S. VASAVADA VISITING A HINDU TEMPLE: A DESCRIPTION OF... circular halo behind the figure. Beside centration. Another interpretation in- splashes it towards the God image. him is a small representation of Shiva dicates that “pu” means “pushpam” Then he starts bathing the base of the in his penis-head form. () and “ja” means “Jalam” (wa- image with water. He moves progres- The seventh altar is devoted to Ma ter), and so Puja is a ceremony in which sively from the base to the head of , the Goddess of Strength and devotees offer their lives and souls to Ganesha, cleaning the small painted Power. She is considered to be the de- God using flowers and water. The fol- circles adorning the image; some of molisher of devils. According to some lowing section describes the of these represent the seven chakras. The traditional Indian stories, Durga helped Puja as observed in a Hindu temple. yellow paint is powder other gods kill one of the most power- mixed with or natural water. The ful demons. She is represented by a 2.1. Group Puja most important chakra is the one in golden image, a sculpture in which she The wears a traditional dress, the middle of the forehead. Some- is portrayed as a warrior killing a de- which comprises two pieces of cloth. times this chakra is called the third mon. She is riding a lion and has eight The first cloth is similar to a skirt, but eye. Only Shiva is considered to have arms. It is believed each arm repre- is joined in the middle, so it also re- a totally open . sents the power of other gods trans- sembles a pair of pants. The second After the first bath with water, the mitted to the goddess Durga to demol- piece of cloth is a long rectangle the priest takes a of milk and pours ish the demon. There is a colorful rug priest wears like a cape; it also covers it into a small container. Without stop- in the background of the space. his chest and belly. This piece resembles ping his chanting, he starts bathing Finally, on the eighth altar is Shri similar garments worn by the Greeks Ganesha with milk. He continues fill- , the Goddess of Knowledge. and Romans. As the priest passes ing the container and pouring the milk She is the consort of , the God temple devotees, he greets them mod- over Ganesha until he has used about of Creation. A human-like figure made estly with a slight smile and a slight half the gallon. Then he fills the bucket of black stone, she is dressed in tradi- bowing of the head. with water again and takes it to the tional Indian clothes and represented He then starts preparing all the nec- front of Ganesha and starts rinsing the alone on a separate altar. She possesses essary materials for the Puja –water, image. He is very scrupulous in the way the powers of speech, wisdom, and milk, flowers, and oil lamps. He fol- he bathes Ganesha and Ganesha's learning, and has four hands represent- lows this by removing the clothes of space. First, he rinses Ganesha's head, ing four aspects of the human person- Lord Ganesha. Then he goes to Lord then his body and then the base. Fi- ality in learning –mind, intellect, alert- Shiva’s place and takes his clothes off nally, the priest rinses the whole floor ness, and ego. too. He takes flowers and used of the room. He is always very careful (oil lamps) and throws them into two not to allow any milk on the image or 2. The Puja garbage cans at either side of the main on the floor. altar. The priest then takes the oil lamps After finishing with Ganesha, the In the Hindu religion, Puja is a devo- out of Ganesha and Shiva’s rooms. priest takes the small container and tional ritual in which devotees make While he is doing this cleaning, the goes to Shiva’s space. He repeats the symbolic offerings of their lives and people follow him from Ganesha to same steps with Shiva, but in addition activities to God. It is also the means Shiva’s space and from Shiva to to the silver kalash, he uses a golden through which an individual can attain Ganesha’s space. After this first clean- container. He also does a milk bathing spiritual union with the divine. The ing phase, the priest fills a bucket with and final rinsing. He is again very care- word puja consists of two letters, “pa” water from a faucet inside Ganesha's ful and meticulous while bathing Shiva and “ja”, and different meanings are space. When the bucket is full, he takes and cleaning Shiva’s room. During attributed to the word. “Pa” represents it to the front of Ganesha. He then some part of the puja with Shiva, the “parayan” or the continuous verbal takes a small silver container called a priest rings a bell inside the room. repetition of the names of God, and kalash and starts chanting some man- Once the priest finishes rinsing Shiva’s “ja” means “” or continuous men- tras in . He continues chanting room, he goes back to Ganesha’s space tal recitation of the names of God. the rest of the puja. His chanting is and dries the floor and entrance steps According to this interpretation, Puja loud and very fast. with a towel. He might touch the base is the continuous act of focusing on While chanting, the priest first takes of the image with a towel, but he never God through verbal and mental con- some water with his fingers and touches Ganesha’s body or head. Then

CIENCIA ergo sum, Vol. 13-1, marzo-junio 2006 85 he goes back to Shiva’s room and dries central room and gets a ghee (Indian Some people also bow their whole the floor and entrance steps too. He butter) lamp. With the lamp turned body while praying. There are two vari- tries to dry most of the water on the on, he goes to Ganesha’s room and ants of this more integral bowing. In image too, this time using his hands, does aarti, a circular movement of the the first, people rest on their knees and not the towel. lamp, in front of Ganesha several times. incline with their hands in front of their Afterwards, the priest goes to a sup- Then, the priest goes to Shiva’s room faces until their hands touch the floor ply room at the back of the main altar and does the aarti of Shiva with circu- palms-down. In the second variation, and brings some clean clothes to dress lar movements there. Afterwards, fac- people lie down on the floor (face Ganesha. The priest folds one piece ing the attendants, the priest does the down) with their arms totally extended of the cloth in a very particular man- same circular movement with the oil in front of their head and their palms ner. Using only one of his hands, he lamp, and some people walk close to together. Such bowing is done only in folds the piece of cloth into four-inch him to receive the god’s energy. Some front of the main god of the temple segments. With the other hand, he holds do a movement with their hands from or in front of the god in whom the the opposite side of the cloth. The re- her forehead to the back part of her individual believes the most. After fin- sult is a multiple-folded cloth the priest head as a symbol of respect. The priest ishing the initial bowing, the worship- uses to form a dhoti (a kind of skirt) offers water to the attendants, and they per goes closer to the god's room to for Ganesha. The priest then takes the take some with their hands and have some prasadam, some sweets and other piece of cloth and puts it around it. Then the priest goes to one of the , as of the god. No indi- Ganesha's neck so that it covers just tables in front of the main altar and vidual ever leaves the temple without the back of the neck. The extremes the central space in the main altar to having prasadam. At the end, before rest between Ganesha’s chest and bring some apples and bananas as leaving the temple, devotees bow their arms, similar to a scarf. The priest then prasad, an offering to God. Mean- heads again in front of the gods to ask decorates Ganesha’s image with flow- while, people put money on a tray as a permission to leave the temple. ers. Then he goes to the central space token individual offering to God. Fi- of the altar to get two small golden nally, the priest gives apples and ba- 3. Understanding the relationships containers with the yellow and red liq- nanas as a prasad, a symbol of the between temples and Hindu uid made of sandalwood (yellow) pow- blessings of God to the attendants. culture der and kumkum (red) powder. Using first the yellow liquid, then the red one, 2.2. Individual Puja An attempt to interpret religious be- the priest does tilak (round or U-shaped Individual praying has a special im- liefs and symbols is a challenging task, mark) and delineates Ganesha's seven portance for Hindu people and is a as a good deal of subjectivism and chakras on different parts of his body. way to have a unique religious experi- value judgment exists in doing so. In After finishing his ritual with Ga- ence in a temple. First, the person this section we attempt to examine the nesha, he goes back to Shiva’s room rings the bell when he or she enters. possible relationships between the and starts dressing him. He extends the The symbolic meaning of ringing the physical setting, symbols, beliefs, ritu- first piece of cloth and puts it around bell is to ask the gods' permission to als and broader aspects of the Hindu the image, covering part of the base. intrude on them during their medita- culture. Throughout Indian history, The second piece of cloth is placed on tion. Then the devotee stops for a few temples have exercised an enormous top of the image, and the extremes are seconds in front of each of the influence on religious, political and so- allowed to hang at both sides. The priest with head bowed, and palms together cial life, as well as on traditions (Michell, decorates Shiva also with the special in an attitude of . This action is 1988). For instance, in Indian Hindu paint and some flowers. He then per- the same for all altars, except that of culture the concept of elevated tem- forms tilak, marking the three parallel the planets. At the planets’ altar the ples symbolizes the importance of spiri- lines on the penis-head form of Shiva devotee does something different. tuality over worldly life. (the shivalingam). This symbolizes the She/he goes around the altar in a Kings and wealthy citizens in the com- worship of the most powerful third eye, clockwise direction. This may be be- munity provide generous funds for the which Shiva posses. cause some of the nine images on this construction and maintenance of tem- After finishing the dressing and deco- altar face in different directions, and ples. Temples were symbols of royal ration phases, the priest goes to the not just to the front. authority and political power (Gautam,

86 GIL-GARCÍA, J. R. Y T. S. VASAVADA VISITING A HINDU TEMPLE: A DESCRIPTION OF... 2003). Temples have contributed to the air, fire and water, gravitational and A typical Hindu temple consists of employment of architects, artisans, magnetic effects and the rotational in- the following major elements –an en- sculptors, and laborers. Music, dance fluences of the sun, moon, earth and , often with a ; one or more and fine-arts programs, including reli- other planets on life on earth, with a attached or detached or halls; gious and musical discourses, are staged view to establishing balance and har- the inner sanctum called the garbagriha, in the temples and have encouraged mony between man, nature and his literally ‘womb chamber’; and the tower musicians, dancers, dramatists, artists, buildings and thereby ensuring peace, built directly above the garbagriha. and religious scholars (Champaka- prosperity, and happiness. This science Besides the ground plan, there are other and Usha, 2001). The grana- containing principles and practices of important aspects of the temple which ries of temples have been used to feed constructing buildings is called Vas- connect it to the phenomenal world - the hungry, and temple buildings tushastra. According to Vastushastra, its site in relation to shade and water, have provided shelter to both scholars the ground plan for a temple is de- its vertical elevation relating to the and students. Some temples are even scribed as a symbolic, miniature repre- mountains, and the most sacred part, equipped to provide medical services sentation of the cosmos. The temple the garbagriha, relating to caves. It is to the sick, elderly, and disabled. Thus, is the representation of the cosmos believed caves provide a calm and iso- temples provide a variety of religious both at the level of the universe and lated environment for individuals seek- and social services and reinforce the the individual, making it possible for ing unity with the divine as they wor- economic and social fabric of Indian the devotee to become inspired to ship their gods. Because India is a vast society. In the US, Hindu temples act achieve his own spiritual transforma- country with great diversity, it is futile as cultural ambassadors and provide tion. The cosmos is expressed in terms to generalize any aspect of religion. spiritual and educational services to the of various astronomical connections Similarly, temple design varies greatly Indian community. Temples in the US between the temple structure and the from north India to and serve also as cultural hubs where the motions of the sun, moon, and the from big temple to small temple. How- Indian community can get together to planets (Kak, 2002). The design of the ever, they all follow the guidelines de- celebrate various festivals. As the temple is based on a strict grid made scribed in the Vastushastra. reader can see, in Hinduism, religion up of squares and equilateral triangles, and culture are complexly intertwined. which are imbued with deep religious 3.2. , Giving, and Sense of The next sections highlight four im- significance. To the Indian priest-archi- Community portant relationships between Hindu tect the square was an absolute and believe their lives are merely religion, culture, philosophy, and so- mystical form. The square shape rep- stages in the progression to ultimate ciety: the design of the temple, the resents the heavens, with the four di- enlightenment (Roy, 1974). The philoso- sense of community, devotion in ev- rections representing the cardinal di- phy is that Iswara would not create the eryday life, and the role of castes in rections, as well as the two solstices and inequalities that exist in the world. These society and religion. equinoxes of the sun's orbit. inequalities in life are understood by the The grid, usually of 64 or 81 squares, theory of karma. According to karma 3.1. Temple Design and Hindu is in fact a , a model of the (law of action), humans’ own actions Philosophy cosmos, with each square belonging to are the cause of their good or bad life. Hindus tend to believe a temple is de- a . The position of the squares is Hindus believe current life is deter- signed to dissolve the boundaries be- in accordance with the importance at- mined by the good or bad actions, tween the human and the divine. All tached to each of the deities, with the thoughts, and words of previous lives aspects of the Hindu temple focus on square in the center representing the (Athavale, 2001). This doctrine of re- the goal of enlightenment and libera- temple deity; the outer squares cover birth is also called the theory of rein- tion. Therefore, by implication, the the other gods. Another important as- carnation. These beliefs are strongly whole universe is identified with the pect of the design of the ground plan rooted in Indian Hindu culture and are temple’s design. Ancient sages of In- is that it is intended to lead from the reflected in such as donating dia laid down several principles for con- temporal world to the eternal. Accord- money to the temple, visiting the temple structing buildings. Among these were ing to Vastushastra, the principal regularly, and performing pujas for each to take advantage of nature, and the should face the rising sun and so should god and goddess. In fact, as mentioned Pancha Bhootas –namely earth, space, have its entrance to the east. early, the puja includes a specific mo-

CIENCIA ergo sum, Vol. 13-1, marzo-junio 2006 87 ment in which people donate money and 3.3. God, Devotion, and Everyday Brahma in any one of his manifesta- also a specific moment in which peo- Life tions (different images of God) and dis- ple receive fruit as a symbol of God’s Despite the multiplicity of Gods in covers the god through love and devo- . any Hindu temple, Hindus believe in tion. Puja is a core part of . Visiting the temple once a day was one absolute God, who in its highest An individual performs Puja as a ritual considered to be a good practice to form is called (the Abso- to connect and worship the god. Each build good karma. In today's busy life lute). It is considered the universal part of the material used in Puja has a many Hindus visit the temple once a soul. It is immanent, within and about symbolic meaning, and is woven into the week. Most Hindus have a small us, and also transcendent, outside culture of the society. For instance, the temple at home and they pray to their material existence, transcending time round circular spot or linear spot of gods at home every day, sometimes and space. It is called Nirguna, with- sandalwood powder or red powder twice a day. One important function out shape and form, and without be- (kumkum) worn at the center of the of the temple is to perform group Puja ginning and end. Nirguna (formless) forehead by an individual doing Puja, and Aarti (the burning of lamps and Brahman is not considered either by the priest or by deities is to adorn waving them clockwise before a deity male or female and is referred to by the latent wisdom, the concentration of is called Aarti). Aarti is generally per- the impersonal pronoun, Tat (that). mind, which is vital to the worship. formed by a priest twice a day: once in The Upnishads, the most important Women and girls in India wear a red the morning and once in the evening. part of the Hindu scriptures called mark, as red is considered an auspicious Aarti represents the community-ori- , explain that the whole Universe color. Nowadays, women and girls wear ented culture of the society. In Indian is a manifestation of Brahman. Life different colors and it has become an culture Aarti is a time for people to get in all its forms has evolved from this integral part of daily dressing and fash- together in a group and sing common single source of energy. It is consid- ion. However, in modern times, men to God. This ritual increases ered the Universal Spirit, which passes wear the mark only during worship. the sense of the community in the in- through all life and things animate and During the puja, lighting the lamps be- dividual who attends Aarti. Once Aarti inanimate. For ordinary lay people, fore the images symbolizes the dispers- is finished, the priest goes to each indi- Nirguna Brahman is difficult to com- ing of ignorance and the enlightenment vidual with the dish of lamps. Most prehend and is impersonal. Therefore, of the mind with knowledge. Sprinkling people donate some money. As men- keeping common humans in mind, the water suggests the purification of one’s tioned before, giving is considered good scriptures explained Saguna Brahman, own self and surroundings. Offerings karma, and giving in the name of God the Brahman with form and attributes of flowers symbolize the souls of wor- or to the temple is considered to be known as the One Great God or shippers being offered to God. even better. By donating money, indi- Ishwara. The temple serves as a cen- and other are offered to thank viduals believe they are collecting good ter for the worship of Ishwara and God for His grace. is waved at karma for the next birth. In terms of undertaking related spiritual activities the end of Puja as a symbol of the fra- social structure, except for big temples, of everyday life in the Hindu com- grance of God's love. Thus, every ac- are volunteers who are paid small munity. The temple is also perceived tion during the puja represents to cer- salaries. In that case Aarti money goes as a place where one can go beyond tain extent important social values within to the priest. People of the community the world of humans, a place where the Hindu culture such as the impor- and visitors to the temple, collectively god can be approached and divine tance of knowledge and giving. maintain the temple and the priest. knowledge can be discovered. However, in modern days, priests have There are believed to be three main 3.4. Religion and Castes other day jobs, so the Aarti money would paths to accomplish spiritual union with In Hindu religious scriptures there is a be additional income in the form of tips, Brahman. (through devo- reference to the division of Hindu so- or the money would go to the temple’s tion), (through action), ciety according to four castes –Brah- general funds for its maintenance. (through wisdom or spiri- manas, , Vaisyas, and Sudras. Therefore, temples are spaces for in- tual enlightenment). Most devotees These castes are represented in the creasing the sense of community by choose Bhakti Yoga or devotional wor- temple and each of them participating in group pujas and some ship to pray to God. In this path, the certain Gods and Goddesses. The other social and cultural events. individual chooses a form of Saguna scriptures relate how the

88 GIL-GARCÍA, J. R. Y T. S. VASAVADA VISITING A HINDU TEMPLE: A DESCRIPTION OF... came out of the face of the Lord, the of differences in the traditions and mon devotees, such images help them Creator; the Kshatriyas from His arms; rituals they perform for marriage, baby to concentrate fully on God, in the the Vaisyas from His thighs; and the shower, and other social/religious first stage of their worship. The use Sudras from His feet. However, there events. Each caste also has its one pri- of images in worship was not known is no mention of anything like the caste mary God it believes strongly in. How- in ancient times, but was introduced system in the ancient Vedic religion, ever, this does not mean all other gods later, mainly for the purpose of wor- which is considered to be the original are not worshipped by this caste. ship by the masses. source of today's Hindu religion (the Visiting a Hindu temple allows the dates back to around observer to understand part of the phi- 1,500 BC). In later times, Sage Manu Final Comments losophy and customs of Hindu culture, conceived the caste system. For a long such as its service spirit, its concept of time, the caste system served as a form Visiting a Hindu temple is a very en- friendship, and the importance of the of division of labor in which each in- riching experience for people from couple (man and woman) in Hindu so- dividual had a role to play according any religious or cultural background. ciety. Religion and culture are aspects to her/his mental and physical endow- Observing a cultural setting is a very of people’s lives that are complexly in- ments on a hereditary basis, to ensure powerful way to realize how many tertwined. Religion contains some of uninterrupted continuity in the provi- things we take for granted in daily life. the more fundamental aspects of any sion of the needed services and goods. In a religious service, an observer is cultural institutions. Understanding re- In modern India, caste does not limit overwhelmed by the amount of in- ligious experiences is a powerful way occupation any more. For example, a formation, both perceived from ob- to learn about the culture of different Visya person can teach in a university servation and interpreted through in- nations. This paper shows how much and do indulge in trade and terviews with devotees. Reverence and we can learn about Hindu culture by acquire wealth. In fact, the caste sys- daily activities are combined in a observing and experiencing its funda- tem has been more or less abolished Hindu religious service. The physical mental characteristics that are instanti- since Indian independence and the dis- representations of Hindu gods are ated in the physical setting and social tinctions are beginning to disappear treated with great respect by the per- interactions within a Hindu temple. It slowly. However, the caste system still formance of daily activities, such as also provides some interpretations and exists in the culture of the society and providing a bath and clean clothes. It background information to better un- is in some way instantiated in the orga- is important to clarify that these im- derstand the complex relationships be- nization of idols in modern temples. ages or deities are not believed to be tween religion, culture, philosophy, so- In general, each caste has some level God, but symbols of God. For com- ciety, and the physical settings.


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